The Twenty Minute Network

Among the side comments with the proposed fare freeze announcement came a note that we might not see the implementation of a 20-minute maximum headway in 2009.  Indeed, just paying for the changes recently introduced could be a stretch.

Just to see what this entails, I have compiled a list of the services that now run less frequently than 20 minute headways.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list as I built it rather quickly to get a sense of the size of the issue, not to nail down every last detail.  A few important points here:

  • Routes outside of the 416 are not included as they are contract services not subject to TTC headway policies.
  • Sunday early morning services are not included because this period is not part of “subway hours”.
  • Where routes overlap, I have tried to omit infrequent services on the overlap.  For example, individual services on Broadview may run on wide headways, but the combined frequency is within the 20 minute cutoff.
  • Not every route with two or more branches has been included.  I mentioned a few in the list because there is an important policy question here.  Should the TTC run very frequent service on a route so that its branches can each stay within the 20 minute maximum?  (A very good example is Eglinton West which has both the Emmett and Trethewey branches that are not always scheduled into the pattern of the main route.)
  • Routes that have no service less frequent than 20 minutes are not included in the table.
  • Empty cells in the table indicate a period when the service is every 20 minutes or better, or in a few cases where there is no service.

One overwhelming observation is that the late evening periods (generally after 9-10 pm) most commonly have wide headways on most listed routes.  A relatively few routes have 30 minute headways for most of the day.

The debate on use of any funding for service increases needs to determine whether the 20 minute maximum is an appropriate goal across the system, or whether it is time to start subdividing by class of route and time of day.  For example:

  • Is a 30 minute headway after 10 pm an acceptable compromise or first step in a full 20-minute rollout?
  • Should routes serving primarily industrial areas be subject to the 20 minute maximum?
  • Do rush hour express buses (the 140 series) qualify as full routes once they no longer charge premium fares, and if so, what should be the minimum headway?
  • Should there be a special class of peak-only routes that do not automatically get full service at the policy headway?

In my next post, I will turn to what may seem to be a more radical idea, the Ten Minute Network.  Such a network would have a guaranteed maximum 10 minute headway on a core network of routes.  Please save comments on that idea until I get the post about it online.  Meanwhile, the policy question is this:  would a Ten Minute Network contribute more to the system overall at this time than the move to a twenty minute maximum affecting only the infrequent services?

Frozen Fares? Frozen Service? Frozen Riders?

Yesterday’s announcement that TTC fares will remain unchanged through 2009 warmed the hearts of many including a packed room at spacing magazine’s birthday party last night.  However popular a fare freeze may be, it’s only part of the story.

Through 2008, the TTC implemented many service improvements to catch up with a backlog of overcrowding and to restore hours of service and a half-hour maximum headway to the network.  There’s more to do including further catch-ups on crowding problems and proposals for even better service.  I will turn to that topic in a separate post.

Meanwhile, the cynics among us have been here before.  Freezing fares sounds great until you’re waiting for a bus that never shows up, or is packed to the roof when it arrives, because the TTC can’t afford to run more service.  Past years have shown what happens when the “you can just stretch the money you have” attitude prevails — service and maintenance deteriorate.

If City Council wants to freeze fares, they have every right to expect that the TTC will go through its books carefully to look for spending that can actually be deferred or eliminated, but this must not be a shield to hide a subsidy freeze.  More service costs more money, and we all know that the TTC does not make a profit on most of its riders.  Council cannot bask in the glory of a rejuvenated TTC and the Transit City mantra but refuse to pay the price of a better transit system.

I await details of the 2009 City operating budget and proposed subsidy arrangements with much interest.